Detroit’s coaching DNA spread across NHL
Posted by Dean Holden at May 21st, 2013
By Cam Cole, 20 May 2013
DETROIT — The 2014 Canadian Olympic team’s head coaching job is Mike Babcock’s to turn down, and that’s as it should be.
You can even argue that the entire staff — other than Jacques Lemaire, who’s retired — has earned a right to return based on the Vancouver Olympic gold, although trying to duplicate success in a general way didn’t work out so well for the 2006 team in Turin, after winning four years earlier.
So Lindy Ruff and Ken Hitchcock, and probably Claude Julien, both on merit and to fill the necessary Lemaire francophone role, can probably book their tickets to Sochi the minute the NHL and IIHF sign off on the fine print and confirm that the best of the best will participate.
But just for fun, consider the options executive director Steve Yzerman would have if he chose to just make it a Detroit Red Wings’ Old Boys club.
Wings GM Ken Holland as his right-hand man. Babcock behind the bench with two of his former Detroit assistants, Ottawa’s Paul MacLean — who’s likely to be this season’s NHL coach of the year — and San Jose’s Todd McLellan.
They’re three of the only eight coaches still working in the NHL in the latter days of May.
Maybe even add Scotty Bowman as a sort of wise man emeritus.
Babcock wasn’t talking Olympics on Monday — he had his hands full trying to steer the Red Wings into Game 3 against the Chicago Blackhawks — but in a way, he was talking about organizational DNA. And no NHL organization has it like Detroit.
He was talking about the raw materials Holland routinely provides, and the way that coaches think and teach, and why they succeed.
“Steve Yzerman told me one time that when Scotty coached him here, he hardly ever talked to him,” Babcock said at Monday’s morning skate.
“And then when he was working with me (as a senior adviser) for two years, Scotty talked to the players all the time. Scotty Bowman loved the players, absolutely loved them … but he had a job to do.
“Paul MacLean loves the (Senators’) players, Mike Babcock loves the players. Sometimes, you’re pushing people who don’t want to be pushed, sometimes they don’t like it — I’m here to tell you that when you look at the group of coaches that are still playing right now, they’re pushing their people. That’s just reality. And in my world, that’s positive.”
Positive is a word his own players were using about Babcock on Monday; the implication being that in the past, he was only positive that he was right. But now, with so many young players on what had previously been a very veteran outfit, the coach has somehow changed.
Babcock doesn’t necessarily agree, but he doesn’t think change is a dirty word, either.
“Our coaching staff understands totally that to be the best you can possibly be, you’ve got to maximize each day and continue to get better and grow,” he said. “There’s no better example than Scotty Bowman, always changing, that’s what you have to do. I’m fortunate to coach the Red Wings, got a good group of people who’ve been coachable and worked hard, we’ve tried to help them, we’re all in it together and we’re having fun.”
It was a Babcock “up” day. At such times, you can only sit back and enjoy the show.
“I actually think we’re positive with all our people,” he said. “The words ‘positive’ and ‘accountability’ and ‘feedback’ sometimes are how it’s perceived, not how it’s given. To me the whole key in life — I don’t know what your life is like — but if someone has an issue with me, I like them to tell me so I can fix it and get better at it. Some people take that in a negative way, but I think when people are trying to help you that’s positive.
“Take that for whatever you want, you can just put my name on it and say I (said it).”
He probably has had to do more teaching this year, but can’t remember when the job was more fun.
“Perception and reality sometimes are different things. Young guys need a lot of work, you spend a lot of time with them, you share as much as you can with them, ideally they’re coachable,” he said.
His current crop of exceptional rookies — the entire third line of Joakim Andersson, Damien Brunner and Gustav Nyquist, and defenceman Brendan Smith — has come miles in a very short time.
“They’re good kids. When we signed Brunes last summer, we didn’t know what he was going to do. Nyquist I thought made our team last year in training camp and then we didn’t have room for him and it took a while for him to get back this year.
“When I went down to watch Andy every time this year, I thought he was great and everyone always told me he was too slow. (Defenceman Jakub) Kindl’s obviously found some confidence and has come a long way, and this Smith kid, for me, has got all the skills, he’s ultracompetitive, sometimes he gets in his own way a little bit but that’s all part of growing up. Jonathan Erickson took a number of years to become what he was capable of being.
“Only stars step right in. The rest of us gotta work and get better every day. And then the superstars — they work as hard as the regular guys, they’ve just got that much more passion and they become Zetterberg and Datsyuk.”
When Detroit had to fly to the West Coast for the Anaheim series, which went seven games, Babcock good-naturedly beefed that the Wings were making 4½ hour flights each way, while his old colleague, MacLean, could commute between ends of the Ottawa-Montreal series “on the city bus.”
But there is real affection in his voice when he speaks of MacLean, the luxuriantly-mustachioed Sens coach.
“The most important thing about Mac is he’s a good man,” Babcock said. “I hired Paul McLean when I went to Anaheim — he’d been in the NHL for a long time — but the reason I hired Paul MacLean was, after he’d been the American League coach of the year and was rumoured to be St. Louis’s next coach when (Joel) Quenneville went there, when he didn’t have a job he went to Quad City in the United Hockey League because he loved to coach.
“So that got my attention. He was big into details and teaching people right, and Paul MacLean sometimes was perceived as gruff but in actuality, he was a great man who loved players and made them better. All I know is he’s a good coach.”
There’s been a lot of that in the Red Wings’ DNA while winning 16 division titles and four Stanley Cups over the last 25 years. It’s one reason they’re the model most every other team would love to emulate.
<This article caught my attention for the insights provided by Coach Babcock; talking about characteristics of good people: coachability, hard work, the desire to get better, passion, details… lots of things successful people do. – DH>